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Using Digital Storytelling to Elevate Community Efforts for Cleaner Air

a section of a California map showing 5 dots connecting Tracking CA sites

Digital storytelling can be a powerful way to document and share lived experiences from those who face environmental and health disparities. Digital stories — short videos narrated by those who are directly involved in or impacted by an issue — are valuable tools in support of community education, advocacy, and other actions to advance positive change.

PHI’s Tracking California program has provided technical support and other resources to the AIRE Collaborative, a network of community-based organizations leading efforts to monitor and improve air quality in their communities. In spring 2020, they worked together to incorporate digital storytelling as a way to support their efforts and build community during the pandemic. Working with the StoryCenter, a participatory digital media organization, they produced a series of videos describing their work to improve air quality in low-income communities across California. 

To highlight the videos, Tracking California created The Road to Clean Air, a StoryMap “virtual road trip” through California that highlights the stories and hometowns of the AIRE members. Together, the AIRE Stories provide a glimpse into communities that are disproportionately burdened by toxic air pollution and elevates the voices and experiences of these leaders who are engaged in air monitoring and other efforts to improve community air quality.

In the video below, “Data for Action,” David Chang of Tracking California describes the influence that growing up in San Francisco has had in bringing him to his work in support of communities working to improve their environment.

We are working with groups like the AIRE Collaborative and Greenaction to establish community air monitoring networks that provide air pollution data in real time. As I watch a new fleet of buses transport my neighbors across the city, I know I won’t be the only one watching if there’s a cloud of soot from the tailpipes. David Chang, Tracking California

In San Ysidro, artist and community organizer Sarina Vega of Casa Familiar talks about her work in air monitoring and creating green spaces in this border community, and the plan for a community park to improve air quality, health, and wellness. See the video with Sarina, below.

Not only does San Ysidro suffer from lack of green spaces, we also suffer from some of the highest asthma rates, with one in four adults being diagnosed with asthma….The dream is for a community park that is accessible, that monitors air quality, sequesters carbon, is surrounded by native plants and hiking trails, and represents who we are in San Ysidro. Sarina Vega, Casa Familiar

Watch all of the videos in The Road to Clean Air series:

Following production of the videos, Tracking California staff provided support to AIRE members with outreach and communications planning to share and distribute each of their digital stories with target audiences, including community members, agency staff, youth, elected officials, and local media outlets. In December 2020 AIRE members held a virtual community screening event showcasing the six digital stories that AIRE members had created as part of the StoryCenter workshop. Attendees included air quality agency staff, members of Community Steering Committees for local community air monitoring projects, and elected officials.

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